Thursday 18 December 2014

Johnny Fallon: In the divisive abortion debate, your starting point is key

Published 10/01/2013 | 11:06

ABORTION. The very word is enough to stop all conversations and send people scuttling away in the hope of a subject change.

It is a great moral dilemma and one that predates all of our current political systems and even many religions.

Over the years I have always enjoyed the rough and tumble of political debate, there is a thrill about the arguments and the cut and thrust nature of it all.

I’m never one to back away from confrontation despite its bad effects on my health, but abortion presents the one argument that leaves me stumped and unwilling to fight.

Try as I might, read, research and listen, I cannot come to a position that I am comfortable with.



There is a story told of two farmers who each lived 5 miles outside a town, but on different sides. The both wanted to see who could reach town the fastest.

So each morning they set out, but the winner alternated between them far too often.

Eventually the two men were stumped and decided that the question of who was fastest simply could not be answered.

From the outside of course we can all see the problem was that the only thing the two men had in common was the distance from the town, after that they were setting out from two completely different starting points and encountering entirely different obstacles each day that they raced.

The Abortion question is much the same. On one hand there is the Pro-Choice movement.

For many in this category the answer to the question is simple. A woman has the right to choose and should be the final decision maker of what is right for her. A foetus is not the same thing as you or I and that simplifies matters greatly.

If you accept that as the start point then the situation becomes much clearer. Why should any woman be forced by society to endure a pregnancy that she doesn’t want?

I know that when I had children it changed my life. They were expected so it was a positive, but not altogether easy, experience.

I can certainly understand that such a life changing experience may not always have the same positive effect. Some people, sadly, are not ready.

There can be no doubt that to a victim of something like rape, the ordeal of having to go through a pregnancy afterward must be a traumatic experience and one that some may not be able to deal with.

Pregnancy can change your life forever and it might not always be a good thing, we must accept that view.

Allowing a woman and medical professionals to decide on the best course of action and allowing choices to be made based on personal wishes is a reasonable and humane point of view.

However, that thought process all stemmed from finding a start point. The issue is that, like our two farmers, the other side of the debate has a completely different start point.

If you fall into the Pro-life category then it’s likely that you believe that the foetus is a human being and should be afforded the same protection as you or I.

Now this changes things completely and makes the problem far more difficult. If the foetus is just like you or I and is in fact alive, then it’s difficult not to see abortion as the killing of another human being.

No matter how difficult the case may be we never permit the lawful killing of another person like you or I.

In fact laws protect us from such outcomes and our safety is not left up to the moral choices of others but it is enshrined in laws that dictate what we can and can’t do to each other.

Now you can see the issue, it’s no longer something that you can turn your back on and leave to someone else; it’s now a matter of defending someone and their life.

This is the crux of the matter. Before you take a position on abortion you must first be able to answer the question of when you think a foetus becomes a human being.

A friend recently made the excellent point to me, that everyone was against abortion but it was more a question of up to what stage abortion could be a choice.

For some it’s an option even in late pregnancy. For others it should not be an option after a foetus has passed a certain point of development, particularly brain development.

Then there are those for whom even the morning after pill is wrong. What is for sure, is that your start point will dictate your final position.



In our last abortion referendum in 2002 only 42% of us bothered to vote. I think that says it all. Many of us simply cannot answer this question and we probably never will be able to answer it.

It is a conundrum we would rather not have to face. For those who have a view on both sides, then the matter becomes black and white, for those of us caught in the middle it is a greyish nightmare.

We want to do right by women, particularly those in difficult circumstances and show a humane and caring approach. We equally don’t want to think we might be causing any unnecessary deaths, either to women or to babies.



Those on the pro-choice side are often painted as crazy feminists, atheists, and liberals. That is not always the case. I’ve met some highly conservative people who, for very personal reasons, have a pro-choice viewpoint.

I’ve met feminists opposed to abortion, and I have met Catholics who in spite of what the church says do not have a difficulty with it.

Equally those on the pro-life side are painted as misogynistic, catholic, backward and unable to see sense. This generalisation is equally untrue. Many have no religion at all, many are women and many think deeply about the issue.



The labels don’t help anyone. There is nobody on the Pro-choice side looking to kill or hurt or who don’t have strong morals in their own right.

They are good people seeking a humane and fair opportunity for women to receive modern medical treatment. They may not even want abortions to happen at all, but feel the option should at least be there.

The Pro-Life side is equally well intentioned, they do not wish to harm women or set up a repressive regime, they are simply trying to defend what they see as equal human beings.



There is no position on this debate that I can find myself totally comfortable with. The moral questions appear at every turn.

I can see the absolute rationale in both sides of the argument and I respect them thoroughly, unfortunately this doesn’t help me. It only conflicts me further. I pride myself on decisiveness; it is for me the hallmark of leadership and ability.

In politics I respect decisiveness and courage. I like to hear the evidence on all sides but then I will come to a conclusion. This abortion debate is the one thing that still stumps me.

Perhaps it’s because there is no right answer. I am trying to judge between the two farmers starting at two different locations.

Until I know for sure what my start point is, I can make no judgment, and that start point has vexed greater minds than mine for many centuries.

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